Rodney Tom schemes....
Rodney Tom schemes....

Yes­ter­day, man­age­ment at The Seat­tle Times tac­it­ly admit­ted they could­n’t bring them­selves to endorse the cam­paign of Repub­li­can Jiny­oung Lee Englund, who is run­ning to take over from appointee Dino Rossi in the 45th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict. In the appar­ent place of an endorse­ment of Jiny­oung, the Times today pub­lished an op-ed by ex-Sen­a­tor Rod­ney Tom extolling the con­cept of split gov­ern­ment.

While Tom’s piece care­ful­ly avoids men­tion­ing Jiny­oung Lee Englund or her Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent Man­ka Dhin­gra, it’s clear that Tom wants to see an Englund vic­to­ry — not because he thinks Englund would be a great leg­is­la­tor, but because he wants the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans to remain in pow­er in Olympia.

Tom, you’ll recall, deliv­ered the Sen­ate into Repub­li­can hands in late 2012 by engi­neer­ing a pow­er coup with Tim Shel­don of Pot­latch. Tom and Shel­don defect­ed from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus to the Repub­li­can cau­cus, allow­ing the Repub­li­cans to become the major­i­ty par­ty despite not hav­ing won a major­i­ty in the 2012 elections.

Tom left the Sen­ate at the end of 2014, hav­ing cho­sen not seek anoth­er term. But he remains invest­ed in main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo that he cre­at­ed in Olympia.

“It might be eas­i­er to have a house with only dogs or only cats — or with only Democ­rats,” Tom writes. “But I pre­fer we fig­ure out how to all get along togeth­er. That is bet­ter for us. It is bet­ter for our com­mu­ni­ties. It is bet­ter for our state.”

Huh? If Repub­li­cans lose to Man­ka Dhin­gra and the Democ­rats in the 45th, they would be out of pow­er, but not out of the Sen­ate. Regard­less of what hap­pens in the elec­tion, there is still going to be a Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus with over twen­ty mem­bers. To put it anoth­er way: Sen­ate Repub­li­cans will still be in the house no mat­ter what. They just won’t get to run the place next year if Man­ka wins.

Speak­ing of Man­ka, she hap­pens to be the most accom­plished of the three can­di­dates seek­ing to become the next sen­a­tor from the 45th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict. She has an impres­sive resume and com­pelling expe­ri­ence for a first time can­di­date. Jiny­oung Englund, mean­while, is run­ning a cam­paign devoid of substance.

But Tom clear­ly cares more about the par­ty ban­ner Man­ka is run­ning under than her best-in-field qual­i­fi­ca­tions or her ideas for improv­ing Wash­ing­ton State.… which is fun­ny, because I can recall hear­ing Tom opine that the per­son is more impor­tant than the par­ty while hold­ing forth at East­side leg­isla­tive town halls.

What Tom is say­ing in his op-ed today is the oppo­site: The par­ty is more impor­tant than the per­son. The unsaid impli­ca­tion of Tom’s argu­ment is that if you’re a vot­er in the 45th, you should vote for Jiny­oung mere­ly so that we can con­tin­ue to have split gov­ern­ment in Wash­ing­ton, which Tom thinks is sim­ply wonderful.

The real­i­ty is quite dif­fer­ent. Here’s an overview of the evi­dence that split gov­ern­ment has been bad for Wash­ing­ton State.

Split government has resulted in bad budgeting practices

Split gov­ern­ment has made Wash­ing­ton State a poster child for fis­cal irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty. Since the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans assumed pow­er, they have thrice brought state gov­ern­ment to the brink of a shut­down (in 2013, 2015 and again this year) in order to gain lever­age in bud­get negotiations.

A dam­ag­ing side effect of that harm­ful, self-serv­ing strat­e­gy has been a lack of trans­paren­cy. Because deals to keep state gov­ern­ment open have been ham­mered out at the last minute, with only hours to spare, there’s been lit­tle or no time for pub­lic input or out­side scruti­ny on the Leg­is­la­ture’s final work product.

This year, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans fool­ish­ly decid­ed to make the cap­i­tal bud­get a hostage too, and demand­ed a ran­som that Democ­rats would­n’t pay. They want­ed House Democ­rats to capit­u­late on unre­lat­ed pol­i­cy mat­ters before they would vote out a cap­i­tal bud­get. His­tor­i­cal­ly, cap­i­tal bud­gets have passed out of the Leg­is­la­ture with broad bipar­ti­san sup­port. But not this year.

As a result, the state has no cap­i­tal bud­get at all, a sad fact that Tom con­ve­nient­ly did­n’t men­tion in his op-ed (it would have under­mined his argument).

Time­ly, trans­par­ent bud­get­ing is the hall­mark of a well-run state. Every­one ben­e­fits from the cer­tain­ty of know­ing what’s in the bud­get pri­or to June 30th, the end of the state’s fis­cal year. Local gov­ern­ments and agency lead­ers in par­tic­u­lar have been ham­strung by the Leg­is­la­ture’s fail­ure to agree on an oper­at­ing bud­get before the eleventh hour. They’re even more ham­strung by the lack of a cap­i­tal budget.

“For our busi­ness­es to thrive, they need pre­dictabil­i­ty and mod­er­a­tion, not wild swings from left to right and vice ver­sa,” Tom argues.

Split gov­ern­ment has pro­duced pre­cise­ly the oppo­site of pre­dictabil­i­ty and mod­er­a­tion. Any­one who val­ues those things and believes the dynam­ics of our Leg­is­la­ture affect our busi­ness cli­mate should not be endors­ing the sta­tus quo.

Insan­i­ty is doing the same thing over and over again and expect­ing a dif­fer­ent result. That’s an overused cliche, often attrib­uted to Albert Ein­stein, but it seems applic­a­ble here. Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have now held pow­er for four and a half years, and we’ve gone to the brink of a state gov­ern­ment shut­down three times.

Why should any­one expect that 2019 would be any dif­fer­ent with them in charge?

If vot­ers want to get back to sound bud­get­ing prac­tices, they’ll have to put an end to split gov­ern­ment by tak­ing away the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans’ power.

Split government is killing needed public policy changes

Pub­lic opin­ion research sug­gests Wash­ing­to­ni­ans are anx­ious to see their elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives take action on a host of press­ing issues, like:

  • ful­fill­ing our state’s para­mount duty to amply pro­vide for the edu­ca­tion of all young peo­ple resid­ing with­in our borders
  • reform­ing our upside down tax code
  • reduc­ing the pol­lu­tion that’s dam­ag­ing our climate
  • expand­ing health­care coverage
  • con­fronting sys­temic racism in our crim­i­nal jus­tice system

… and so much more.

Sad­ly, progress has been elu­sive because the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have turned the cham­ber they con­trol into a pol­i­cy grave­yard. The House keeps pass­ing good bills, some even with sup­port from the House Repub­li­cans, that the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans keep on killing, often with­out so much as a hearing.

Here’s a few examples:

Fol­low the links, and you’ll see these are bills that received a vote in the House, but died in the Sen­ate. If Sen­ate Repub­li­cans were not in pow­er, these bills like­ly would have received a vote on the Sen­ate floor instead of being blocked in committee.

Split government is stifling discussions on key issues

Split gov­ern­ment is also hurt­ing wor­thy caus­es that don’t yet have a major­i­ty of votes to pass in each cham­ber, but need dis­cus­sion and debate.

A great exam­ple is abolition.

A grow­ing num­ber of Repub­li­cans — includ­ing for­mer Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rob McKen­na, State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ter­ry Nealey, and State Sen­a­tor Mau­reen Walsh — have con­clud­ed it’s time to get rid of the death penal­ty.

So has The Seat­tle Times edi­to­r­i­al board.

But even though there is grow­ing bipar­ti­san sup­port for such a move, the Leg­is­la­ture is not seri­ous­ly dis­cussing the idea, because the extrem­ist core of the Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus is so rigid and closed-minded.

Cur­rent Sen­ate Law and Jus­tice Chair Mike Pad­den is a vocif­er­ous sup­port­er of state spon­sored exe­cu­tions and has used his perch to choke off dis­cus­sion. He is backed in that stance by top Sen­ate Repub­li­can Mark Schoesler.

See­ing that Sen­ate Repub­li­cans will absolute­ly not budge from their immoral hard­line posi­tion, House Judi­cia­ry Chair Lau­rie Jink­ins has con­clud­ed it would be point­less for the House to try to advance an abo­li­tion bill for the time being.

But if vot­ers give Democ­rats a Sen­ate major­i­ty this autumn, Pad­den and Schoesler will be oust­ed from pow­er, and the cause of abo­li­tion will at least be giv­en con­sid­er­a­tion in the Sen­ate as well as the House start­ing in 2018.

Split government is draining resources and morale

The­atri­cal, drawn out leg­isla­tive ses­sions in which not much gets accom­plished have become the norm in Wash­ing­ton State thanks to split government.

As men­tioned, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have repeat­ed­ly brought the state to the brink of a gov­ern­ment shut­down three times in the span of four years. Because of their self­ish­ness, the Leg­is­la­ture has become less effec­tive and cred­i­ble as an insti­tu­tion. Law­mak­ers are spend­ing more time in Olympia while get­ting less done.

This has had unhealthy ram­i­fi­ca­tions for every­one in Wash­ing­ton, but it’s been espe­cial­ly tough on the law­mak­ers them­selves and the staff who sup­port them.

Increas­ing­ly, when I ask law­mak­ers “How’s it going down there?”, the answer I get back is: “Bru­tal”. The inces­sant spar­ring and lack of progress on mat­ters of con­cern to the sev­en mil­lion plus inhab­i­tants of the region’s largest state is tak­ing a big toll on the morale and emo­tion­al health of the peo­ple who work in our statehouse.

It’s also been waste­ful with respect to resources. Wash­ing­to­ni­ans could under­stand if spe­cial ses­sions were being called to give leg­is­la­tors more time to devise solu­tions to stub­born­ly per­sis­tent prob­lems like our regres­sive tax code.

But that’s not why spe­cial ses­sions have become so com­mon. They’ve become com­mon because Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have delib­er­ate­ly con­spired to keep Wash­ing­ton in a per­pet­u­al­ly man­u­fac­tured fis­cal crisis.

If the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans lose pow­er lat­er this year„ the dynam­ics of the Sen­ate will dra­mat­i­cal­ly change… for the bet­ter. Instead of hav­ing an adver­sar­i­al rela­tion­ship with the Gov­er­nor and the House, the Sen­ate would have a friend­ly rela­tion­ship. There would be be a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties for cooperation.

Coop­er­a­tion trumps com­pe­ti­tion when it comes to gov­ern­ing. If that is what vot­ers want to see, as opposed to more of the grid­lock we’ve had over the past few years, then they will have to change the com­po­si­tion of the Sen­ate to get it.

Such a change could be very lib­er­at­ing — even for the Repub­li­cans. As it stands now, the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans are already behav­ing like an oppo­si­tion cau­cus. If they lose their major­i­ty, that is what they would actu­al­ly become. They would cease to become respon­si­ble for the man­age­ment of the Sen­ate, but they would still have the abil­i­ty to influ­ence pol­i­cy bills and bud­gets, just like the House Repub­li­cans. They could grand­stand to their heart’s con­tent with­out par­a­lyz­ing the Legislature.

Wash­ing­ton has strug­gled with split gov­ern­ment for four and a half years now. Rod­ney Tom looks at the results of the pow­er coup he engi­neered with the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans, and he likes what he sees. But then, he sees what he wants to see. He’s become very dis­con­nect­ed from the East­side vot­ers he used to represent.

Since choos­ing not to run for reelec­tion three years ago, he’s become a Repub­li­can oper­a­tive, man­ag­ing an attack PAC that unsuc­cess­ful­ly attempt­ed to defeat incum­bent Supreme Court Jus­tices Bar­bara Mad­sen and Char­lie Wig­gins.

Mean­while, vot­ers in his dis­trict have sent increas­ing­ly pro­gres­sive Democ­rats to rep­re­sent them in Olympia. They, like their neigh­bors in the 45th and 41st, val­ue prag­ma­tism and progress, which we won’t see if Tom’s sta­tus quo persists.

On Tues­day evening, we’ll get an incli­na­tion of where at least some of the vot­ers in the 45th stand — and con­se­quent­ly, where our state may be headed.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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One reply on “Rodney Tom is wrong: Split government isn’t serving Washington State well at all”

  1. Peo­ple who say that want “divid­ed gov­ern­ment” real­ly want the gov­ern­ment to look like DC, where the GOP is in total power.

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